Greg Keyes, Lord of Souls (Del Rey, 2011)
When we last left the odd, but desperate, ensemble of characters attempting to stop Umbriel, the terrifying piece of Oblivion floating above Tamriel and turning every creature touched by its shadow into an undead thrall (viz. The Infernal City review, 16Jan10), things looked pretty hopeless. I haven’t read Greg Keyes’ work before, so I’m not sure if that kind of “staring into the yawning pit of despair and pondering how it’s possible that your ragtag band of adventurers—split across an entire continent—might possibly have a chance of defeating what would seem to be an unstoppable evil” is a common thing with him. It would seem to be, because, well, I was pretty convinced that that wasn’t going to happen. But then, the Elder Scrolls games have always been about conquering ridiculous odds with a character who certainly doesn’t seem like much at the beginning of the story. (In Skyrim, as in the rest of the games in the series I’ve played, you start out as a petty criminal. Go figure.) So, hey, the tradition continues.
Plot: each of our three pairs of would-be heroes is in kind of a bind. Prince Attrebus and his travelling companion—one can never quite be sure whether “ally” is a proper word—Sul keep finding themselves flung back into oblivion while Attrebus tries to find a legendary sword he believes has the power to stop Umbriel. Annaïg and Mere-Glim are on Umbriel itself, Annaïg becoming a cook of some repute, while Mere-Glim swims the sump fomenting a revolution from within. And Colin, who may or may not be working with a powerful ally (or a powerful enemy attempting to keep an eye on him), what can he do, stuck in the Imperial City? Most importantly, how—if at all—will any of all of these folks manage to bind forces in order to bring Umbriel to its knees?
Lord of Souls is a worthy enough successor to The Infernal City without bettering it; together, the books comprise a duo that tell a thrilling, if somewhat beyond one’s regular suspension of disbelief, tale of the time bridging a piece of the gap between Oblivion and Skyrim. (One assumes Bethesda was also dropping feelers to see whether a series of Elder Scrolls novels might have the kind of fanbase that makes other media tie-in F/SF book series so profitable; people are still cranking out Star Wars and Dr. Who novels are a record pace, and I’m not talking about fanfic. I can only hope the experiment was a success and we’ll get more of these as time goes on.) But, as a number of other reviewers have noted, these are books that will most likely appeal to already-existing fans of the Elder Scrolls universe; if you’re unfamiliar, grab yourself a copy of Morrowind, Oblivion, or Skyrim first and get hooked on the games before heading into the territory of the novels. *** ½